Fourth Week: Food Lessons

Hello there!  This week’s blog is dedicated to food!  When I first think of Filipino food I think of two words either sour or SWEET.  This is because most Filipino foods have vinegar in them which makes them have a rather sour taste.  On the other hand, the food here is very nice and sweet.   As a person who loves nearly all things sweet, my taste buds are definitely living their best life here.    

-“matamis”, sweet in Tagalog- 

Snacks

On Wednesday (the 29th), Sarah and I went with my supervisor Sir Alex and Miss Lea to Bulacan for site visits.  We visited three Nutribun adopters: one was a large production facility, one was a national high school, and the other was a bread shop.  Before the work excursion, I did not know how widely distributed Nutribun is.  Miss Lea informed me that site visits to adopters (people who are licensed to produce and distribute Nutribun) are done annually and that there have even been some site visits that required plane travel.   

During the first site visit, Sir Alex gave me a brief history of how Nutribun came to be.  Nutribun was created by the United States in the 70s-80s, Americans created it to help with providing nutrition to those who are malnourished in the Philippines.  

That afternoon, we were served lunch at the large facility, where I tried pancit for the first time and Don Benito’s Cassava Cake (the dessert in the picture below in a square box).  Cassava Cake is honestly probably my new favorite dessert I’ve had here in the Philippines (which just slightly surpasses an ube shake with boba).  Unlike the awkwardness I’ve felt in the states while eating with people I don’t quite know, here I feel so welcomed and seen by people I’ve met only an hour before a meal.  This once again shows the hospitable and kind nature of the people here.

I find it kinda funny how Wednesday morning I had never eaten pancit before and by the afternoon I had tried not one but three different pancits.  Sir Alex explained to me that pancit is a very popular dish here for parties and celebrations.  Additionally, the Chinese belief of eating noodles leads to a longer life is also believed here in the Philippines.  Later, on the way back to Bicutan I joked that I now have three times longer life, because of the three pancits.  

Friday was DOST-FNRI’s Anniversary

This Saturday, Sarah and I explored Mall of Asia (including SM By The Bay).  The mall is truly bigger than I could have ever imagined.  Every time I thought I saw just about everything, there was always a new level, wing, or building to explore.  I spent nearly an hour looking for a BDO ATM and gave up,  later finding it in a part of the mall I had never been in before.  The maps app wasn’t really helpful when it came to the mall and had we not asked mall security we might have never found SM By The Bay.  There we got to ride a Ferris wheel as the sun set and a few other carnival rides.  Sarah told me it gave her Navy Pier vibes.   

Week 4 takeaway:  Philippines culture is similar to Vietnamese culture.  It’s funny as I spend time here I start to miss my extended family members.  The use of family titles when even addressing strangers is similar across both cultures.  Oddly, I feel closer to my Vietnamese-American identity here than in the states, maybe that’s due to how curious people are about my Vietnamese identity.  I recall during the study abroad pre-departure meeting, Director Shimizu addressed how the weight of your identities may change as we go abroad.  I didn’t think much of it then but now I understand.  Also, the food is similar in some aspects. Lots of rice.

-Till Next Week, Jess 🙂

Third Week: This is Living Now

It may be week three but there’s still much to see.  Things have really slowed down this week, as I’ve been falling into a routine.  This week at work I have been preparing for my education session presentation which I will be presenting on July 6 to DOST-FNRI employees via zoom.  I am quite nervous but my coworkers and supervisors have been very kind and helpful in alleviating most of my worries.  On top of preparing for my presentation, on  Thursday (the 23) I was invited to attend the afternoon batch of virtual site visits which is a part of the technology transfer activities.   

Food delivery apps are truly convenient.  I’ve finally gotten the chance to try foodpanda which is like DoorDash, you order your choice of food and someone brings it to you.  On Monday night I ordered from Jollibee and it was nice not having to walk all the way to SM Bicutan.  Typically after work, it’s more convenient for us to stop on the way home to eat dinner at SM Bicutan. Side note, I now understand why my coworker told me it is common for Filipinos to go to the mall everyday.

This week we’ve taken three grabs to work instead of walking to work every day of the week.  Grabs are like the Philippines version of uber.  Back in the states, I am used to driving my own car and not having to rely on anyone else to get somewhere, which was why transportation was confusing and a tad stressful at first.  Now that I’ve gotten a hang of booking grabs I’d like to try other modes of transportation, ones that will be. . .  kinder to my budget.  

By the way pro tip, it’s definitely easier (or the only option) to pay in cash for literally everything from foodpanda to grab to buying food in the canteen or even at SM Bicutan.  I only ever use my card at the hypermarket or when dealing with ATMs to withdraw cash.  Another thing to take note of is the wait time.  Drivers are very likely to cancel on you.  It’s honestly faster to walk to work when you factor in the time finding a ride, waiting for them to pick you up, and then the traffic on the way to your destination.      

Sarah and I took the weekend to rest and spent most of our time at Siena Park.  On Sunday (the 26th) I walked around the area while trying to find a way to the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.  I never made it there but I enjoyed walking around the area and seeing all the stores along the street, Bicutan market, and Marimar 1 Village (located on the street behind our residence).       

Week 3 takeaway:  Covid restrictions are pretty strict here.  I am honestly impressed with how regulations are and how the majority of people appear to be taking the pandemic seriously here at FNRI.  Before entering the building there is this device that scans our temperature through our palms, we are then required to fill out a daily check-up form before we can time in for work, and it is mandatory to wear masks at our work stations.  Here in the Philippines masks are still required within closed public spaces and some places even require proof of vaccination before entry (hotels/resorts and movie theaters).   

Till next week, Jess 🙂

Second Week: Adapting

Hello again! This week marks my first official full week of working in the Philippines. This week has gone much smoother than last week. I can feel myself adapting to the way of life here. I won’t lie, the heat and humidity are brutal especially when you have to walk 1.3 miles with three uphill inclines to work, but it’s gotten a lot easier as the days go by. This week for work I have continued researching and summarizing related reading materials for my division.

FNRI Garden

Crossing the street was a tad intimidating at first, there’s a lot of traffic and they won’t stop for pedestrians to cross, you just kinda have to go for it. The first few days the guards at the DOST compound were nice and helped us cross the busy road by standing in the road and stopping the oncoming traffic. Now I can cross the street with confidence. Speaking of things I’ve learned on the road, I think I’ve mastered umbrella etiquette now.

Because the Philippines is near the equator it is very hot and so they use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun here. Due to my black hair, I would rather not risk getting overheated, so I use my umbrella every day. At first, I was clumsy and may have accidentally hit a few people with my umbrella but now I know how to safely pass through crowds of people holding umbrellas (either lift or lower your umbrella so both sides can pass through).

On Tuesday (the 15th) my coworker friend invited Sarah and me to go see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at the SM Bicutan Cinema. Sadly, by the time we got off work, it was POURING. The streets were FLOODED, we had our umbrellas but that didn’t stop the flooded streets from pouring into and over our shoes. That was the first time I had ever experienced that magnitude of rain and flooding (which is common here since June-November is rainy season in the Philippines) . Because of the flooded streets, I got to ride my first tricycle (a motorcycle with a small cart for passengers to ride in).

On Thursday (the 16th) night, I decided to do laundry. Unfortunately, the hose on the washing machine broke which drained all the water before it could properly wash my clothes. Ate Malou saw the hose break while doing her laundry and went down to our unit to inform us. She also offered to help me wash my clothes, let me borrow hangers, AND helped me hang up my clothes. When I got back to the unit I honestly got so emotional while telling Sarah what had happened. I never expected someone to show me, a mere stranger, such kindness. The whole situation reminded me of when my aunts used to help me when I was younger.

-“Ate” is the Filipino word for older sister. –

Sarah’s supervisor invited us to her hometown, Pagsanjan Laguna, for the weekend. On Saturday (the 18th) Sarah and I went on a boat ride to Pagsanjan Falls where two boatmen guided us over rocks and heavy currents to reach the falls. Afterward, we went out for lunch with Ma’am Cean and her husband at this Chinese-Filipino fusion restaurant that overlooks the river. They also took us to the church they got married in and Ma’am Cean’s brother’s coffee shop. In the states I would have never imagined to visit the hometown of someone who’s considered my supervisor.

I never thought I would be bonding so much over my love of Korean dramas in the Philippines. In the Philippines there are a lot influences from Spain, China, and America which is reflected in their cuisine and architecture. While their entertainment preferences appear to be heavily influenced by Korea (there is a lot of kdramas on Philippines Netflix that is not offered in America). On the way to Pagsanjan we passed three Korean restaurants and even ate Korean Barbeque in Los Baños on Friday night. The advertisements here also have celebrities and idols from Korea, I’ve seen NCT Dream (a kpop boy group) on an advertisement in SM Bicutan.

Second Week Takeaway: Filipinos are dedicated and hardworking. I thought my walk to work was intense but hearing how my other coworkers get to work. I am quite thankful our residence is close to FNRI. While putting on makeup in the bathroom for her meeting, one of my coworkers told me she takes two jeepneys to work. My other coworker told me it takes him two hours to commute by bus.

Till next week, Jess 🙂

First Week: Impressions

Hi there, it’s Jess. Coming to you live halfway across the world in the currently rainy and windy Philippines. I’ve been in the Philippines for about a week now, eight days to be precise. This week I have experienced many firsts that no preparation could have possibly prepared me for. Not necessarily bad but memorable. So just to kick off, here are some highlights of the past week.

June 2nd was the start of it all. I’m thankful to my Dad and sister for driving and accompanying me to the Chicago O’Hare International Airport which due to construction took nearly seven hours. After all the long lines of checking in and security, I finally made it to the gate and met with the other IWU Freeman Asia students. Unaware of all the sitting we would have to do the next few days we all anxiously waited to board the plane. It took us thirteen hours to land in Doha Qatar, a nine-hour layover, and a nine-hour flight to finally make it to the Philippines.

Airplane Dinner Meal

We stayed in Los Banos at the SEARCA Residence Hotel for two nights. On the second day of our arrival in the Philippines, we were greeted by a panel that taught us about Filipino culture and a crash course on essential terms and phrases of the Filipino language. That night we were treated to Filipino food at a restaurant where two singers played the guitar and sang for us. Something I learned during the past few days is that Filipinos love to sing even while working in the office. I also learned that karaoke is big here, hopefully, I’ll get to go with some locals sometime.

First Sunrise in the Philippines

Us FNRI interns parted with the other IWU Freeman Asia students on Sunday night and the following day we were taken to Siena Park Residences (where we will be staying for the rest of our time here in the Philippines). We had our FNRI orientation on Tuesday and were given a tour of the entire FNRI building. I didn’t start officially working on anything till the following day. I was assigned with finding related reading literature for a project my division is currently working on.

On Friday (June 10th), Sarah (the other IWU Freeman Asia intern under the Technology Diffusion and S&T Services Division) and I traveled to Tagaytay City with our coworkers to attend the Consultative Meeting for Technology Licensees of Enhanced Nutribun. Sarah and I spent all afternoon in D’ Banquet Bakeshop and Resto working the registration table and attending the meeting.

FNRI Garden
Early Lunch in the Canteen (Fresh Lumpia and Rice)

First Week Takeaway: Always bring an umbrella to shield yourself from the blazing sun or the occasional afternoon rain (there’s almost always a chance it will rain here). Filipinos are very nice and accommodating. I broke my umbrella after using it once and when I told Sir VJ he offered to lend me an umbrella until I got a new one.

-Till Next Week, Jess 🙂

Introducing Me

Hi! Welcome to my blog!

My name is Jessica Tran and I am an upcoming senior psychology major at Illinois Wesleyan University. I love artistically expressing myself, hiking, and trying new things including food. This summer I have been offered an amazing opportunity by the IWU Freeman Asia Program to intern at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in the Philippines. This website will include my weekly blogs of my life working and exploring in the Philippines.

Please look forward to my future posts! I can’t wait to share my summer experience!